… and Four Teams DownPosted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2010
David Ely is an RTC contributor.
Every year teams come out of nowhere and burst into the top 25, while sports writers run to their keyboards to type the requisite “Where Did Team X Come From” story. I mean how many people saw Cornell coming last year? Who said last October that Butler would go on to lose the national championship game by just a couple of inches? Conversely, there are teams that look great on paper in the preseason but fail to live up to the hype once the season starts. Think North Carolina last season. Why did the Tar Heels begin the year in the top 10 again? Allow us to sort through the mess and pull out this year’s Cornells and North Carolinas for you. Missouri fans, get ready to be excited. West Virginia fans, start thinking of things to say in your hate mail.
On Monday we took a look at four teams that will be up this season. Today we’ll examine four teams that will be down as compared to where they were last year.
#1) West Virginia
No Devin Ebanks. No Da’Sean Butler. All kinds of problems for the Mountaineers, who are the only team from last year’s Final Four to begin the season outside of the AP top 25. Bob Huggins’ squad lost a lot of what made last year’s team so tough to handle with the depatures of Ebanks and Butler. The 2009-10 Mountaineers got by on their ability to suffocate opponents with their brutally physical play combined with Butler’s brilliance on the offensive end. Now much of the responsibility falls to forward Kevin Jones, who averaged 13.5 points per game as West Virginia’s third option. Can Jones step up his game this year when defenses single him out as the guy they have to stop? If Jones struggles, then the Mountaineers will have a hard time duplicating even some of the success they enjoyed last year.
Reports coming from preseason practices aren’t too encouraging. Huggins recently told the Charleston Gazette that freshmen Kevin Noreen and Noah Cottrill “look lost” at practice. And that was after Cottrill sparked rumors when he was introduced but didn’t participate in West Virginia’s Midnight Madness. There also was the case of Casey Mitchell, who was suspended for a violation of team rules but is now back with the team. These aren’t the kinds of stories that equate to success in the regular season. This year might be one to forget in Morgantown.
The Big Red was the last year’s feel good story, upsetting Temple and Wisconsin en route to an unprecedented run to the Sweet 16. And what was the reward for America’s favorite brainiacs turned basketball stars? A return to obscurity.
Cornell lost its X&Os wizard in Steve Donahue when he opted for the greener pastures of the ACC, taking the head coaching gig at Boston College. The Big Red lost all-time leading scorer and 2010 Ivy League Player of the Year (Ryan Wittman), the sparkplug and catalyst of its NCAA Tournament run (Louis Dale) and six other seniors from last year’s squad. That would be a lot of attrition for even a team like Duke to endure, and there’s no doubt Cornell and new coach Bill Courtney are headed for a big step backward this season.
The Big Red was predicted to finish third in the Ivy League, which would require a number of players to step up fill the voids left by the likes of Wittman and Dale. Cornell needs big seasons from proven players like point guard Chris Wroblewski and forwards Adam Wire and Mark Coury. Then the Big Red will need some of its unknown pieces (one if its four freshman or maybe junior transfer Anthony Gatlin) to emerge if Courtney & Co. hope to compete for a fourth straight league title.
Poor Robbie Hummel. Some knees just aren’t meant to take the punishment involved with being a basketball player. Hummel re-tore his right ACL on Oct. 16 and will miss the entire season. The loss of Hummel, a legitimate threat to win this year’s Wooden Award, is enough to bump Purdue from a team on the rise to a team likely to fall. Paired with seniors E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, Hummel made the Boilermakers a preseason top-5 team, competing with Michigan State for the title of team to beat in the Big Ten. Now Purdue is just another solid team headed toward at best a couple of wins in the NCAA Tournament.
If there is a silver lining to Hummel’s situation, it’s that it happened during the preseason. Last year Hummel went down Feb. 24 at Minnesota, and the Boilermakers never really had time to figure out a clear strategy on what to do without their star. That Purdue managed to band together and ride Moore and Johnson to the Sweet Sixteen should give fans hope that the Boilermakers are equipped to weather an entire season without Hummel.
A lot more will be expected of Johnson, who along with Moore was a preseason All-Big Ten selection, and he’ll have to deliver while facing constant double teams in the paint. If the Boilermakers manage to prove doubters wrong it will be their perimeter shooters that make them a top ten team. Either Lewis Jackson or Kelsey Barlow has to become a perimeter threat to take some of the heat off Johnson. It wouldn’t be wise to doubt a team coached by Matt Painter, but it doesn’t look likely that Purdue will contend for a trip to the Final Four in Houston.
Quick question: What’s the difference between Wofford and Maryland? One AP voter thought enough of the Terriers to include them on his preseason top 25 ballot. Yes. Mighty Wofford received more votes (one to zero) than Maryland. That’s how far the Terrapins have fallen in the eyes of the media after losing their top three scorers from last year’s squad that lost to Michigan State on a Korie Lucious prayer in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Gone are Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes, who combined for 43.6 points per game last season. In their place is the gigantic question on just how Maryland will be able to score enough points to earn a bid to a third straight NCAA Tournament. Senior Sean Mosley and sophomore Jordan Williams will have shoulder more of the scoring burden than they’re accustomed to. But the two aren’t enough to replace all that’s been lost.
At Maryland’s media day on Oct. 14, coach Gary Williams said that in addition to players raising their scoring averages, the key to success this year would be his squad’s ability to stop opponents on the other end. That entails the Terps improving from a 2009-10 season in which they ranked #50 in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. Dramatic improvement will be tough to achieve without Vasquez, whose length along the perimeter was always a matchup problem for opposing guards.
Three Others to Consider.
- California — Last year’s Pac-10 regular season champs, the Golden Bears aren’t expected to do much this year. They were predicted to finish seventh by the Pac-10 media and that sounds about right considering all the new faces on Mike Montgomery’s squad. Cal has to replace Jerome Randle, last year’s Pac-10 Player of the Year, along with three other departed seniors. The Golden Bears are going for a new physical style of play led by Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp. Expect to see some growing pains as Cal adjusts to a Monty’s preferred post-heavy system.
- Kentucky — Year 2 of the John Calipari era won’t match the excitement of his first season with the Wildcats, but it’s hard to believe that anything could. There’s no one of John Wall’s or Demarcus Cousin’s caliber on this team, so the 2010-11 Wildcats aren’t going to overwhelm the opposition on a nightly basis. Rookies Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight aren’t slouches and will keep Kentucky competitive both nationally and in the SEC, but it’s unlikely this team will earn the same kind of acclaim as last year’s bunch.
- Louisville — It’s been a bizarre offseason for the Cardinals and Rick Pitino. Everyone associated with the program has to hope the events of Pitino’s extortion mishap will be forgotten as soon as the season starts. Basketball-wise, though, the thing to be the most excited about might be the Cardinals’ new 22,000-seat downtown arena. Sure it will be fun to watch Louisville return to Pitino’s patented uptempo style, but one has to question if the Cardinals have the horses to be successful in such a system. Louisville scored a big victory when the NCAA ruled center Gorgui Dieng eligible. Still, Pitino called this season a “bridge year,” so don’t expect much from the Cardinals for at least another year.